Summer Olympics Field Hockey: A History

Abstract: The 2012 London Summer Olympic Games will feature mens’ and women’s field hockey competitions, which will take place between July 29 and August 11. Here is a brief history of field hockey as an Olympic sport.

The 2012 London Summer Olympic Games are almost here, and field hockey will be among the featured sports.

About the Sport

According to the official website of the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, the field hockey events will begin Sunday, July 29 and end Saturday, Aug. 11. They consist of a men's 12-team tournament and a women's 12-team contest. Hockey fields are 91.4 meters (approximately 100 yards) long and 55 meters (about 60 yards) wide with goalposts at either end.

1908 Olympics field hockey - Scotland vs. Germany (1) {{PD-1923}}
Each field hockey team contains 16 players, 11 starters and five substitutes. Ten of the athletes will play in the field, and one will serve as a goalie. Players use "hook-shaped sticks" to move a small, hard ball up and down the field for two 35 minute halves. The squad's objective is to score goals by shooting the ball into the opponent's net.

Field Hockey's History as an Olympic Sport

Per the International Olympic Committee's website, some derivation of field hockey has been played for thousands of years. The British were at least partly responsible for fostering the development of modern field hockey in the late 1800s. The sport was popular in the country during that period, and "workers and the military carried the game to the four corners of the British Empire."

It is perhaps fitting that, according to The Telegraph, the 1908 London Summer Olympics were the first to feature field hockey as a medal sport. It then disappeared from the Olympic roster for 12 years before being added back into the mix at the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium. Field hockey "has been a staple of the Olympic programme [sic] ever since." Olympic field hockey was a male only sport until 1980, when "women's hockey was introduced" at the Moscow Games.

Per the International Olympic Committee's site, field hockey was played on grass for most of its history. Beginning in the 1970s, Olympic organizers started switching to plastic turf in an effort to speed up the game. NBC notes that the 1976 Montreal Olympics marked the first time that all the field hockey events were played on an artificial surface. Olympic field hockey has been played on artificial turf ever since.

Medal Winners

Two countries, India and Pakistan, dominated field hockey for much of its early Olympic history. In fact, per NBC, India and Pakistan won every field hockey gold medal between 1924 and 1972, when the Pakistani team was bested by West Germany in the gold medal game at the Munich Olympics. The Indian teams were especially dominant during this period. According to the International Olympic Committee's site, they won six consecutive gold medals between 1928 and 1956.

Per NBC, India currently leads all other countries in overall men's field hockey medals with eight golds, one silver, and two bronzes. Great Britain is next with nine total medals. Pakistan, Australia, and the Netherlands are tied for third with eight medals each.

According to NBC, the Netherlands and Australia have dominated women's field hockey since its introduction at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Teams from these two countries have snagged five of the eight gold medals awarded in the event.

Future of Field Hockey as an Olympic Sport

Field hockey has been a staple of the Olympic Games since 1920, and there is no indication that either men's or women's field hockey is in danger of losing its place among the pantheon of Olympic sports.

1. Photographer/Owner: British Olympic Association
    Date: 1908
    Title/Description: Hockey at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London: Scotland scores against Germany.
    Location/Permission: Wikimedia Commons - the copyright has expired (the photo is over 70 years old).
    Click on the title or caption to see the photo, credits, and permissions, including a  note on U.S.
    copyright laws.  {{PD-1923}}

-- Anthony Hopper

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